Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: One Content Team’s Journey | Episode 57


In today’s episode, Animalz's COO Haley Bryant talks with Sydney Carlton, Director of Brand Marketing at Storyblocks, a stock videos, images and audio provider.

In October, Storyblocks launched Re:Stock, a campaign to more than double the representation of LGBTQ+ and BIPOC content in their library from 5% to 10% by 2021 and 20% by 2022.

The deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor sparked unprecedented focus on the Black Lives Matter movements. Diversity, equity and inclusion transcends this moment, and to make significant progress, our focus has to be evergreen.

As companies are challenged to figure out how to improve internally, some companies are taking their commitment to DEI a step further by sharing their action plans externally to challenge themselves, their customers, and their competitors to step up.

Mentioned in the Episode

Listen to the episode above, or check it out in your favorite podcast app.


Key Takeaways

7:52 - Diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives have to come from a genuine place.

"I'm a relatively new director of brand marketing, and I'm trying to guide this brand through this moment in time, the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement. So, it's what position is our brand going to take? How are we going to do this in a way that stays true to ourselves?

"This was a very genuine project that we identified long before the world told us to…I'm a black woman, or maybe not so obviously in podcast form, but I'm a black woman and my team is very diverse.

"So, we just felt like obviously the team isn't the face of this campaign, but through all of these various viewpoints and voices, we are going to be able to let that genuineness in this project shine through in the way that we address it, in the way that we talk about it, in the marketing collateral that we produce."

10:42 - You have a voice within the org. Use it.

"I think that's what's most important thing for any content marketing marketer, no matter what position you're in, is to know that you have power and to use that voice no matter where you sit in the org to be an advocate for change where you see that it's needed.

"I think you have to be self-aware, you have to recognize that we all have work to do, including ourselves, you, and if you lead from that, if you lead from, "We all have work to do. I have work to do. I also want to see my company doing the work as well as me," I think that you can't really go wrong.

"…I think that if you are just one more voice advocating for change, you will start to see that tide change in your company, and be confident in that and don't be discouraged by slow progress. Recognize the wins."

14:52 - Take your audience on a journey with you.

"One of the things that we debated, was at what point do you speak up about the work that you're doing? Because the work is never done. So, how far in do you have to be towards your progress to talk about it, to be a thought leader?

"I think there's a lot of value in talking early and acknowledging where you're at now. That's what we try to do with our content, but also internally with our employees. We're towards the beginning of this journey, but we're going to be open about this and transparent. I think that people like to be on that journey of improvement with you."

23:06 - You don’t have to be a big fish to make a big impact.

"We're hoping that we've just moved the bar in our industry. Lack of diversity in stock media is an industry-wide problem. Honestly, Storyblocks isn't a big player. We're not Shutterstock. We are a disruptor in this space. So, if we can do this, if we can attack it in this way, then there is no reason why the big players can not.

"I'm hoping that that is the long-term impact, that it is now required that you have authentic representative stock media in your library or else you're not going to be able to compete."


Full Transcript

Haley: (01:18)
Welcome to the Animals podcast. I'm Haley Bryant, COO of Animals. I'm joined by my good friend, Sydney Carlton, director of brand at Storyblocks, who is a mentor and relatively new mom. How's it going, Sydney?

Sydney: (01:33)
It's going pretty good. How's it going on your end?

Haley: (01:36)
Can't complain. You know? We're here, we're making it through the year. It's more than a lot of people are lucky enough to have, so I feel really lucky. But before we dive in, remind me, what was your path into brand marketing? You started in SEO and content, right?

Sydney: (01:53)
Yeah, exactly. Really, the beginning of my path started with my blog, a brunch blog with a friend. From there, I taught myself SEO. Obviously the blog was an entry into content marketing, and was able to get a job at an agency specializing in technical SEO and web development, and kind of grew from there. Went into SEO at Storyblocks, where I am now, managing that, and then kind of year by year took on a little bit more, then took on content marketing, now I'm taking on brand marketing. It's been an interesting journey that I did not anticipate.

Haley: (02:40)
It's been really awesome to watch from the sidelines as you've grown over the last few years and how your growth has mirrored your company growth. How long have you been at Storyblocks now?

Sydney: (02:51)
I've been with Storyblocks for about three-and-a-half years now.

Haley: (02:56)
That's awesome. You mentioned kind of taking on more responsibility over that three-year course. Was that stuff that you asked to do, you were asked to do some somewhere in the middle?

Sydney: (03:08)
Yeah. I mean, it was a really good opportunity. With SEO, as we know, a lot of it is connected to the quality of the content that you produce. So then I was like, "Well, can I run the blog? Can I be in charge of this?" Then it was like, "Well, obviously there's other content types besides the written form, and we're a very video first company, so I want to look at content marketing as a whole and balance what output that we have across platforms. So, can I take that on?" Luckily, I'm with a company that's like, "Sure. If you think you can make a difference here, then be our guest." Luckily, I'm with a company that's just full of yeses to everything that I've asked for. As I ask more responsibility, it's kind of all come back to this one idea of achieving organic growth. So, it's all connected for me.

Haley: (04:03)
That's awesome. We focus really heavily on organic growth through quality content at Animals. I feel like there's really cool alignment here. It makes me even more excited to talk to you today. One of the big reasons for our conversation today is the Re:stock campaign that you just launched. Was that one of those things that you kind of championed an idea that you helped come up with? Did that come top down? What was the beginning of that idea?

Sydney: (04:29)
Yeah, so sort of early on in my tenure at the company, like maybe two-and-a-half years ago, I was like, "We need more diverse content." I mean, I think everyone knew this. It was kind of like, "Yeah, we know. Customers are requesting this." But it was like, no, like we're a very community based company, and it was like, what if we actually worked with filmmakers and created our own stock and kind of go back to our roots? Because that's what we were founded on, we were founded by a independent film maker who was trying to make something and thought that the cost of stock was ridiculous, and so he started making his own. So, it's like, let's do this. It took about a year of talking before it started to really become like, "No, we can do this. Let's do it."

Haley: (05:24)
That's awesome. So cool to see it all kind of come together. Especially at this moment in time, it feels so important. Just reading the press releases about it I got so excited. I'm grateful that you took the time to chat with us about it today. It sounds like the response has been really fantastic so far. From your perspective and Storyblocks perspective, why is diversity, equity and inclusion important, and why specifically in stock photos?

Sydney: (05:52)
Yeah. I mean, from the Storyblocks perspective, we're all about storytelling, and we want every single story a chance to be told at its fullest, loudest, most effective capabilities. So, it's really about doing the work to make sure that when we say all stories, we mean all stories. So, really, I think that there's an interesting movement happening right now, obviously, that's talking about the power of storytelling and the power of telling everyone's stories. We see Representation Matters collection in Netflix, and we see these practices across the industry. We're kind of at the beginning of that process, the beginning of the production, the beginning of the ability to tell a story. I think for us, we want to make sure that every single story has access to the same tools and ability to tell their stories as any other stories. That's really what it means for us. It's a matter of practicalness.

Haley: (07:04)
Yeah. Oh my gosh. I got goosebumps when you were talking about that. That's amazing, and it's so cool to see the alignment with the original vision of your founders and how that stayed at the core of your values over time, and how you're using that in this movement to take action and make a change. Something I feel like I've seen from a lot of brands during this time is a hesitation to say anything, whether in support of Black Lives Matter or awareness of "new normal" for fear of appearing tone deaf or just not saying the right thing. How did you navigate launching Re:stock as a campaign that is so needed without worrying about seeming like you're just riding on the coattails of this moment in history?

Sydney: (07:52)
Yeah, that actually was a little bit of a fear of mine. I'm a relatively new director of brand marketing, and I'm trying to guide this brand through this moment in time, the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement. So, it's what position is our brand going to take? How are we going to do this in a way that stays true to ourselves? One thing about the Re:stock campaign that I had to be confident in is I knew we had a few things going for us. One, we started this project before the Black Lives Matter movement was really coming to the climax that it's at now. The film makers knew that we've already been talking to the film makers. They knew that this was a very genuine project that we identified long before the world told us to, was shouting for it as it is now. So, we were confident in that.

Sydney: (08:53)
Then the second thing I really confident in is we had a very diverse team behind us. Obviously, I'm a black woman, or maybe not so obviously in podcast form, but I'm a black woman and my team is very diverse. So, we just felt like obviously the team isn't the face of this campaign, but through all of these various viewpoints and voices, we are going to be able to let that genuineness in this project shine through in the way that we address it, in the way that we talk about it, in the marketing collateral that we produce. This isn't a pat ourselves on the back moment, it's a call to action, a promise to do better, a promise to listen. So, I think that taking that perspective is what made this different.

Haley: (09:43)
Yeah. Wow. That's amazing. It's really cool to see how genuine of a place this comes from, and I think that that's the thing that we need to all stay really present with, is not to use a content marketing term, but this is evergreen. This is something that will always be important, especially as people continue to increasingly align their budget with their values, right? Their company values, even their own values. It's really important to make this sort of stand. Thanks. Thanks for sharing that. We sent this summer reworking our values and creating a company roadmap to put our DEI mission front and center. I realize we're really lucky, right? We're a women run company, I'm allowed black voice. Any advice for other companies or content marketers grappling with how to step into their power to create more inclusive customer and brand experiences?

Sydney: (10:42)
Yeah. It's funny, we're at a similar point in our company. We're looking at our values with fresh eyes and looking at incorporating DEI into that and making it a real priority in the year ahead. It is something that our employees are also pushing us on doing as well. I think that's what's most important thing for any content marketing marketer, no matter what position you're in, is to know that you have power and to use that voice no matter where you sit in the org to be an advocate for change where you see that it's needed. I think you have to be self-aware, you have to recognize that we all have work to do, including ourselves, you, and if you lead from that, if you lead from, "We all have work to do. I have work to do. I also want to see my company doing the work as well as me," I think that you can't really go wrong.

Sydney: (11:48)
We all have different challenges. Obviously, we're not in all these super advanced with DEI companies that are just like, "Oh, we're so happy you brought that up. Let's change things right away." But I think that if you are just one more voice advocating for change, you will start to see that tide change in your company, and be confident in that and don't be discouraged by slow progress. Recognize the wins.

Haley: (12:21)
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Continuous progress. Right? Continuous change.

Sydney: (12:26)
That's the goal. Honestly, I would go further and saying, you know what? Ultimately, if the company isn't moving at the pace that you are comfortable with, then you might want to look for a company that does value DEI and moves at a pace that that you like. Ultimately, not every company is a fit for everyone. I think that's a reality too.

Haley: (12:49)
Oh, totally. Totally. I feel like there's such a pressure, a positive pressure, right? It's a forcing function now. For us to be able to do anything positive externally, we have to really have our S-H-I-T together internally. You can't preach what you don't follow yourself. So, it's cool to hear how as Storyblocks has grown, you are now making sure that your outsides reflect your insights versus starting outside first, right? With this campaign. You mentioned how diverse your team is, it sounds like you've done a lot of work at the company in just talking with people over drinks, et cetera, hearing about your various employee resource groups and the platform that it sounds like is given to all people within the company is really exciting. When I saw this press release, I was like, "Oh, this makes so much sense," because that's already how I perceive the inside of Storyblocks knowing you and the work that it sounds like has been going on.

Haley: (13:49)
But I feel like just the initial moment of this Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, lives lost, seeing so much focus on listening, taking in inside first, I feel like now so people will process and they're in a place where it can transcend from the inside in terms of the single body, the single team member, to the inside of an entire company. That has ripples, right? For years to come once the insight is strong enough. We were just talking, I just talked to our lawyer yesterday, someone shared this inclusion writer with us about a commitment to improve our hiring and recruiting practices. One of the things we were talking about around that is I think the goal is for us to be so good at this, at DEI, that we can then share it with other people, and that's success.

Sydney: (14:47)
Yeah.

Haley: (14:48)
This is very inspiring in thinking about that as well.

Sydney: (14:52)
Yeah. Thanks. That was one of the things that we debated, was at what point do you speak up about the work that you're doing? Because the work is never done. So, how far in do you have to be towards your progress to talk about it, to be a thought leader? I think there's a lot of value in talking early and acknowledging where you're at now. That's what we try to do with our content, but also internally with our employees. We're towards the beginning of this journey, but we're going to be open about this and transparent. I think that people like to be on that journey of improvement with you.

Haley: (15:36)
Totally, totally. You talked about how you put this out there so that you have some sort of accountability. You set really clear metrics and also really aggressive metrics. How are you planning on reaching your goal of doubling and then redoubling your representation of LGBTQI+ and BIPOC folks in your content?

Sydney: (16:02)
Yeah. I mean, the goals are so aggressive that we're going to have to be creative. I think that's exactly what we designed the goals to make us do. Besides the Re:stock campaign, which is bringing more underrepresented film makers into the stock media contributor pipeline, we're also getting the stuff that's already being made. So, there has been work done, especially in the images, stock photos arena, and creating inclusive stock photo imagery. We're working on getting that in our library. We want to acquire that. We want to work with the people already doing the work, but we also know that that's not enough, and so we need to bring more people into the work. So, we're going to go do that, and we're going to pay them fairly and we're going to value their work as it should be valued, which is honestly at a premium because it's in demand, so it should be treated as such. We're just going to kind of grind away at it, looking high and low and in new places for this content. I think that's the only way that we can get this done.

Haley: (17:15)
Yeah, yeah. Yeah. That's amazing. It's cool to hear you acknowledge, yeah, it's a hard goal and we did that on purpose, right?

Sydney: (17:22)
Right.

Haley: (17:23)
One of the books we reference a lot internally is Jim Collins, Good to Great. He talks about in that book the idea of the big, hairy, audacious goal. I've heard very conflicting things about this from a management perspective. Like, if you reach too big, people can actually get discouraged. Right? But I think what's cool about this is you are... again, it's a forcing function. You're open to feeling pain potentially on the mission to getting there, like working harder, longer. Like you said, searching high and low, going to new sources. Right? And really flipping this on its head. So, yeah, really cool to hear about the work there. I guess thinking about this work and then any takeaways from the last year or so of really thinking about launching this campaign, what advice can you offer to other companies to increase their representation, whether it's in the stock photos they choose to use or illustrations, how they find models, or throughout the business?

Sydney: (18:24)
I mean, I think that the work really, really starts right at the beginning. If you look around at your team and it looks like only one type of person, only one voice is represented, only one background is represented, you need start to start there, because consumers, clients, whoever it is that you are working with, whoever your customer is, is going to quickly feel if your efforts are thin or surface level. The only way to do the work from a completely authentic, genuine places to hire diverse voices to be part of those decisions.

Sydney: (19:06)
There's no short-cutting this. I know a lot of high growth companies, startups we'd love to hack our way into growth quickly. I would argue that you don't hack your way into this. You do this by doing the work in a very real way, which means having diversity in your company, diverse voices, diverse opinions. Then you're able to execute things at the level that they need to be at. Then also for yourself, you need to learn about the issues at hand and not just go into this blindly, like, "Ah, I have an idea. More black people, more LGBTQIA+ people. We have solved it." It's like, no. No. That is not enough.

Haley: (20:01)
Yeah, yeah, no, continuous progress always ongoing. It has to be a focus from top down and very upstream to your point about it starts with the people in the room. I think it's interesting just thinking about how we're designing our DEI programs for next year, how much all the focus on retention plays back into recruiting. Right? It takes me back to a conversation with you years ago, not to age myself here, but thinking about how much longer you were thinking about staying at the previous company you were at and thinking about, "Okay, you want to have a family at some point. Is the benefits package good enough to be able to have a family?" That's something, and I think especially right now thinking about the number of women who left the workforce just with the need for more childcare during the pandemic, it's so important to think about things like benefits and the retention programs available, employee resource groups, et cetera, in addition to the actual, how are we sourcing new candidates? Because a big part of attracting people is what do the insides look like? So, again, that inside outside comparison.

Sydney: (21:14)
Yeah. Agreed. We're thinking about that too at Storyblocks, And obviously that's funny because that is... so, for my last company to this company, that's what prompted my move, and I love Storyblocks. The benefits are great. They are so family friendly, and so I definitely made the right choice. Not to toot my own horn, but the voice that I had at this company in year one is different than year three. So, retaining diverse talent and nurturing them and showing them that they are valued benefits companies because those voices become more comfortable, more trusting, and now they can bring up ideas and thoughts that they may not have brought up in year one. So, if all of your diversity is in year one, right? That's not very different than if you've grown diversity over many years and people are happy and trusting. Your company is going to benefit from their voices a lot more.

Haley: (22:20)
That makes me so excited for the future of Animals, of Storyblocks, Just thinking about the mix of folks that we have and how amazing things will be in a few years as confidence is built, as people feel the psychological safety, right? Like their voice matters and they can contribute in a different way, because I think once you realize, "Oh, wow, my company actually values what I have to say," or, "They actually value..." we term it brilliance internally, but they actually value diversity and change so much for the better. So, I guess coming back to the campaign, what are some of the anticipated long-term impacts from Re:stock?

Sydney: (23:06)
We're hoping that we've just moved the bar in our industry. Lack of diversity in stock media is an industry-wide problem. Honestly, Storyblocks isn't a big player. We're not Shutterstock. We are a disruptor in this space. So, if we can do this, if we can attack it in this way, then there is no reason why the big players can not. I'm hoping that that is the long-term impact, that it is now required that you have authentic representative stock media in your library or else you're not going to be able to compete. Then as a result of that, I think people have no idea the amount and number of businesses that use stock media to represent humans or inject people in the absence of the budget for a model or all of those resources. So, therefore, we'll see media become more diverse. I could go further with the snowball effects of that, but that's really it. Stock media is a lot of time the building blocks for media, especially shorter form media and advertisements and journalism, and we should see that become a lot more inclusive.

Haley:(24:34)
Yeah. I think the ability to make a lasting impact within your company for all of your customers, for all the creators who now get to contribute, and then across media, wow. And thinking about the goal of leveling up other companies, like, "No, this is the bar now," is really powerful. So cool. I was thinking just as you were talking about an article I read in Undefeated by ESPN, an open letter to LeBron James, talking about how he's totally changed what people perceive to be amazing in a sports player because of all the doors he's opened for his team, for his players, by passing the ball on and off the court, but also for the black community, being very outspoken, not just focusing on what happens on the court, also talking about the things happening in the world around us. Right? Which it seems like now more than ever employees expect.

Haley: (25:41)
If you want to attract people, you have to talk about this stuff. You have to be comfortable with the uncomfortable conversations. Customers are increasingly expecting and thinking about due diligence. Are you employing diverse hiring practices, et cetera? So, yeah, it's amazing to see the leadership from Storyblocks and, yeah, I want to hang out with you more and pick your brain more, because this is awesome. Couple more questions if I can. You kind of alluded a bit to Storyblocks values. I'd love to know from your perspective how this campaign is reflective of the company values.

Sydney: (26:22)
Yeah. One of our values is when the community wins, we win. When we're talking about the community, we mean the creative community, the creators that are using our content, but also the creators that are contributing to creating stock media. So, we kind of have both in [inaudible 00:26:42]. I mean, I feel like this project, again, really impacted the community on both ends. The Re:stock film makers are all local film makers, and they were given this opportunity and it just so happened during a time, they were filming during a time when film makers were kind of struggling. Opportunities were drying up in the COVID-19 reality, like not safe to shoot. So, it was really awesome to be able to give these film makers and invest in them this opportunity. We loved that.

Sydney: (27:16)
We now have this community of film makers who we feel really close with that have taught us a lot. Then on the other end, we have hundreds and hundreds of net promoter comments that were demanding diverse content, and now we have comments on the other end that are like, "Thank you for listening. Thank you for recognizing. This is what this allows me to do. I've been needing this." I mean, I couldn't think of a project that makes me feel like our community has won more. That's really how it's connected to our values.

Haley: (27:55)
That's amazing. I was about to ask just how much input you got from your audience to move all this forward, and how much of this was proactive, reactive, or kind of a combination. So, it's cool to hear all of the positive responses now that you've rolled this out.

Sydney: (28:11)
Yeah. We named the campaign. The way that the campaign was named, it's called Re:stock, Re:stock but it's designed or it was named as you know when you reply to an email, the subject line says re? So, it's really, that's what it was designed to be. It's supposed to be a reply to all of the demand that we've gotten, all of the messages about, "We need more diverse content." It is a direct response to that. That is where that came from.

Haley: (28:43)
How does content support this campaign, or how are you using your own content to continue to support this campaign over the next... I mean, it sounds like you have a milestone set up through the next couple of years.

Sydney: (28:57)
Yeah. We're going to continue to tell... we were telling the stories of the film makers. We have a lot of supportive content that goes along with this campaign about just the importance of representation, why we're doing this, but even just learning from these film makers how did they create these shots, what did they have in mind? Just the technicalities behind the camera. There's a lot to learn. We always try to use content at Storyblocks or our content marketing to help our customers to overcome challenges that they face when they're creating their video content. That's what we're going to continue to do and support them with through the Re:stock campaign as well. We want to continue to teach, and, yeah, that's really what we have planned.

Haley: (30:00)
That's makes complete sense. Really appreciate you sharing a little bit more about that and how the campaign will be supported with content over the next year, year plus. I guess one more question before I let you go, because thank you, this has been awesome. So helpful. Is there anything else that you're excited about going on at work right now?

Sydney: (30:30)
I don't know. There's so much. We're in an exciting period at the company. We're growing a lot. I'm excited for our company to grow in terms of number of people. I'm excited for the internal DEI work that we have ahead of us. There's so many things happening at Storyblocks, not all that I can talk about, but it's an exciting time to be at our company right now.

Haley: (30:59)
That's awesome. It sounds like it is. I appreciate this now more than ever, getting to talk about this campaign instead of the other campaign. It's perfect in the world. It gives so much hope and excitement, and I'm excited to see more and more content that is representative, and to think of Storyblocks, and you, to some extent, every time that I see that. Really appreciate you taking the time, Sydney. It's been awesome to catch up and to hear more about all the great work you're doing at Storyblocks.

Sydney: (31:31)
Yeah. Thanks, Haley. Thanks for having me.

Haley: (31:34)
Thank you.

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